Sunday, December 27, 2009

Chiang Mai Half Marathon race report

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." Winston Churchill

We planned this trip months and months ago. My youngest daughter and I would spend Christmas with my parents in Thailand while my oldest was working at Disney World and my Husband was deployed to Afghanistan. While thinking about what I wanted to do during our visit I looked up races in Thailand on the off chance that there would be a local 5 or 10K while I was in Chiang Mai. I was so excited when I discovered I would be there for the 4th annual Chiang Mai Marathon, especially since they also had a half marathon and 10K at the same time.

The race was scheduled for the 27th, so after arriving in the early morning hours of the 17th (following 23 hours of flying in 3 planes, and 7 hours of layovers in Atlanta and S. Korea) I followed a light taper/continuation of my running from the Outer Banks half marathon. My runs were going really well, despite the ubiquitous exhaust fumes and warm tropical climate, so I was looking forward to a great race. Unfortunately, at dinner Christmas Eve, my stomach started acting up. I ended up being up all night throwing up (sorry, TMI, but nothing pulls every muscle in your body like that!) and spent all of Christmas day feeling like I had been beaten up by a whole baseball team. I thought I was done for, it seemed like there was no way I was going to recover enough to even crawl a race, let alone run for over 2 hours.

However, on the morning of the 26th I actually felt a little hungry and could eat rice and leftover turkey. I felt much better, but definitely not in race condition. I decided that one more day would be enough to at least walk the course so I went ahead and registered. Everyone thought I was nuts except the couple down stairs that were planning to run the full marathon. Only another runner could really understand why I was still planning to run this race. So I spent the day eating as much rice and turkey as I dared (which wasn't much) and drinking electrolytes. Despite several naps and sleeping the whole day before, I still managed to get to sleep about 8:30.

My alarm went off this morning at 3:10, UGH! The full marathon started at 4 and the half started at five, so the runners down stairs had arranged a taxi to pick them up at 3:15 and then come back to get me an hour later. As soon as I got up, I drank a huge glass of the electrolyte drink, nibbled some toast and turkey and had a little Asian banana (about half the size of the ones back home.) Foolishly, I went for a cup of coffee, I'd regret that for hours!

The Tha Phae Gate was a beehive of activity. They used the same arch for the start of the full and half marathons, and then 10K and kids’ fun run, with one race starting each hour. To prove you were at the start, you had to go to "Check in" where they drew a blue line on your bib with a Sharpie. There were maybe 150 runners so everyone was over the start line within a minute. I had met lots of people and a great guy from Washington State ran with me for the first 7 miles. He was probably around 60 and had lived and run all over the world. Now he runs slow and for fun, but he spent the first hour and 20 minutes telling me about running in Athens, Greece, Paris, France, and dozens of other places. I really credit him with surviving this race because he totally took my mind off of how cruddy I felt and kept me going until past the point of no return. He also kept me from worrying about the fact that I had no idea where I was or how to follow the course!

When we hit the turn around, we nearly missed it. They handed us water, waved flash lights in our faces to get our attention, gave us rubber bands with a piece of blue yarn tied on to prove we made it that far, and signaled us to go back the other way. I'm sure some people missed the point because one couple that I had talked to before the race, and could see for the first 5 miles, never passed us on the way back!

At about mile 8 I was beginning to feel the lack of food over the previous few days. Earlier, when we passed tables set up to give food to the Buddhist monks, the smell turned my stomach and brought my coffee to my throat, so the thought of eating my Sports Beans or Gel did not appeal to me at all. In hind sight, I really should have choked down the beans. I finally waved on my adopted running buddy and took my first walking break. It was still full dark at this point and I was feeling really low, but now there was nothing to do but keep going. Thankfully, most of the race was along a canal where the main traffic runs and things hadn't really gotten started for the day so the exhaust fumes weren't too bad. As the sun started to brighten the sky, I realized I was surrounded by probably 100 roosters! Every person that has 10 square feet of dirt has chickens, and they are the most pitiful looking chickens you ever saw, but they crow with the best of them and every rooster in Chiang Mai was trying to outdo his neighbor. Thankfully, that cacophony kept me distracted (that and trying not to kick or step on them.)

Miles 9 and 10 seemed like they went on for hours. I was so tired and wanted to stop so badly, but I wanted it over with more so I kept putting one foot in front of the other. The traffic was getting thicker as we approached the old city, but they had great control on the intersections with the Thai Royal Army lined up every 10 feet to make sure the cars didn't run down the racers.

As I reached the old walls I knew I was getting close. I had been running for 2 hours and 8 minutes and had 2 miles left to run. If I could just kick it back up to 11 minute miles and skip my last walking break, I might come in sub 2:30! It was just the incentive I needed to focus my mind and motor on. As I hit mile 12, I had 12 minutes left, the darn .1 was gonna get me if I didn't keep pace! Suddenly, I turned a corner and saw the finish line, WHA!! Now, I know Garmins loose a little distance when you make a lot of turns, but I KNOW I didn't make enough turns to lose almost .8 miles! Honestly though, I was so glad to see it I really didn’t care. The finish line had 3 chutes, one each for the full, the half, and the 10K and I was so focused on keeping moving I nearly went down the wrong chute! I crossed the line just over 2:23, I couldn't believe it! Keeping with the low tech theme, they drew another blue line on my bib to show I crossed the finish line and checked for my rubber band with yarn. Anyone who placed in their age group was given a plastic card with their place on it and were sent to a table to have their name recorded for the awards ceremony.

My mom was waiting for me at the finish. No one expected me to finish that early, I was even carrying taxi money in case I couldn’t get back on my own, but she couldn't wait to get down to the race finish and just happened to have walked over to scope it out when she spotted me. As I came out of the chute, I was handed a medal and a plastic grocery bag that contained a vegetarian sausage biscuit thing, half a sandwich (with who knows what on it), a bottle of water, and a bottle of electrolyte drink. Needless to say, I threw away the food as soon as I could. They also had home made rice soup that was probably wonderful, but still not on my edible list, and boxes of soy milk. I didn't feel like I wanted anything, but standing around talking my calves and toes all suddenly started cramping horribly. As fast as I could, I downed my sports beans and the drink they gave me. I must have been really low on salt because about 10 minutes later everything started to relax.

I wish I could have stayed for the awards show, but I was done in and ready for a shower and nap. Now, 9 hours later, I'm feeling pretty good. I have bland food in my stomach, I've had a nap and shower, and rubbed Tiger Balm on nearly every joint. Looking back at my race report, I realize it begs the question, why didn’t I just run the 10K. Well, it never occurred to me! I didn’t have to run, I could have quite and no one would have faulted me, but I needed to test my metal once again and I passed with flying colors.

PS I ran in VFFs :-)


greentigress said...

Fantastic Wendy,
you are one tough cookie!!
I am pretty sure i would not be racing if i felt like that!!

runrgrl2007 said...

You are the one of the strongest women I know! Wendy, I am so proud of you. You keep going no matter what is put in front of you! Glad your feeling better.

Marianne said...

Congrats!!! :o)

Mike said...


Sarah said...

Wow are you tough! Stomach bugs are AWFUL!! I cannot even imagine running after having one, much less a half...way to go!

Rookie on the Run said...

Awesome race report. Between you and me, I usually skim them because they tend to be a bit boring. Not yours, though! What an amazing experience to run a half in Thailand.

Sarah directed me to your blog because I just started trying barefoot running. Well, more like barefoot and VFF-footed.

I'm glad she told me about your blog! I'm looking forward to reading more. :D

scott said...

I and another VA barefooter plan on running the C'ville 10 miler April 2010. Join us if you can.

robison52 said...

Your adventures and successes are fascinating to read! You are a force of nature.

Sam Eureka said...

Wendy! you are so awesome!!

barefoot in VaBch,

Anonymous said...


WendyBird said...

Jost, sorry you thougth I was crticizing. I gues you meant the food? I threw it away because my stomach was bad, not because the food was bad :-) It was a great race and very well organized for the situation. I would recommend it to anyone!